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2010 Assembly Q&A with Das Williams

NOOZHAWK: What motivated you to run for the Assembly? Explain your decision process.

Das Williams
Das Williams

DAS WILLIAMS: As an educator, a local school board member and a city councilman for the last seven years, I’ve seen firsthand the damage done by people in Sacramento having the wrong priorities. Class sizes are growing, teachers are being laid off, and every year it is becoming more difficult for local government to provide the services that people rely on to function and thrive as healthy communities. Now more than ever we need leadership in Sacramento that has the right priorities, knows how to build consensus, understands what our local communities need, and will work until we achieve the right solution. Not an easy short-term fix.

Here locally, we’ve had a lot of success in fixing the city of Santa Barbara’s budget without eviscerating vital services, and on the school board I sit on, fixing our budget without laying off teachers and keeping resources in the classroom where they belong. It was that record of building coalitions and getting results that so many in this community often cited as a reason for encouraging me to run for the Assembly.

I know that we can have the same kind of success in Sacramento that we’ve had locally. In the Assembly, I will work hard for my community and ensure that every child has the opportunity for a high quality education. I will work to create good, family-supporting jobs, expand access to affordable health care and find real solutions, not short-term gimmicks to our state budget crisis.

NOOZHAWK: What unique experience or expertise do you have that is lacking in Sacramento and will make a difference in the Legislature?

DW: Our representatives in Sacramento are disconnected with what real people at home want and need. As someone who grew up here, went to local schools and has spent my life serving my community as an educator, local school board member and city councilman, I am deeply connected with the needs of this community. My experience balancing budgets during tough economic times on the city council and on the board of Peabody Charter School will serve our community well in the Legislature. During tough economic times we have been able to fix our budgets while protecting vital services, such as public safety, through a balanced approach of eliminating waste, making difficult yet necessary cuts, and finding new ways to increase revenue. We need leaders in the Assembly who will take the same common-sense approach to the state budget and not resort to gimmicks and quick-fix solutions.

NOOZHAWK: Where do you see yourself in seven years?

DW: I hope to be finishing a successful tenure in the Assembly in which I played a key role in creating long-term fixes to our state budget, strengthening our education system and building the green economy of the 21st century right here in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

NOOZHAWK: What is the most important aspect of California’s economy? How is Sacramento helping or hindering its success?

DW: A strong education system is the foundation of a vibrant and sustainable economy. In order for our state to remain competitive in the 21st century, we must be committed to building a world-class education system that not only prepares our children to compete but serves as an engine of economic innovation.

I was fortunate enough to grow up having good public schools and great teachers who helped me secure a scholarship to UC Berkeley and I went on to earn a graduate degree from UCSB. I would not have been able to become the person I am now or enjoy the many opportunities in my life, if it weren’t for the public-school system.

Right now our education system is facing many challenges. To begin to address those challenges we need to re-prioritize our schools. That means making a long-term commitment to making our schools, colleges and universities a priority, no matter the economic climate. We also need to make a commitment to put more resources directly into the classroom as well as give parents and teachers more control over their schools.

As a board member at Peabody Charter School and an educator, I understand the invaluable role that teachers and parents play creating a high-quality educational experience for students. At Peabody, we have been successful in building a partnership between teachers, parents and the administration to ensure that all stakeholders are invested in every child’s education and teachers are getting the resources they need to succeed. This past year Peabody faced a budget deficit. However, working with teachers and parents we were able to craft a solution that kept teachers in the classroom and did not compromise the basic principle of putting the classroom first. Instead we cut overhead, administration, streamlined our spending.

We can do the same in the Assembly — by building coalitions around real long-term solutions and sending leaders to Sacramento who will not compromise the quality of our schools.

NOOZHAWK: California has been in a perpetual state of fiscal crisis for more than a decade. At $19 billion, this year’s budget deficit is among the nation’s worst. Sacramento is three months late adopting a budget as required by the state Constitution. How will you change this seeming dysfunction?

DW: The gridlock in Sacramento has become so pervasive that it seems nothing can get done. Now more than ever, we need leaders in Sacramento who have a record of building coalitions, embracing realistic solutions and who will work until the right, not the easy, solution is reached. I have a history of building coalitions and getting support from all sides. For example, I currently serve as president of the Cachuma Operation and Maintenance Board, a regional water agency. This is a very diverse board and we come from all over the ideological spectrum. We have been able to work toward effective goals, and I have been honored to serve as a consensus-building president over such an ideologically diverse body to deliver results to our constituents. In the Assembly, I will strive to build a similar consensus and results for this district and the state.

NOOZHAWK: Municipal officials throughout the state — including in Los Angeles and San Diego — are openly discussing bankruptcy as a way out of their bleak financial predicaments. What caused such distress? What’s the solution?

DW: The tough economic climate has put governments throughout the state is difficult financial positions. In many cases, short-sighted planning, quick-fix solutions and an inability to build consensus around a balanced approach to getting back to fiscal health only made matters worse. At the city of Santa Barbara, we have faced budget deficits in the past few years. Yet, through a measured and balanced approach we have been able to close the gap and are now back in the black. This was possible by being realistic about what needed to be done to fix our budgets through shared sacrifice. At the city, I was able to work with all the stakeholders to build coalitions and win consensus on a fair and balanced approach to solving our fiscal woes. There is absolutely no reason the same cannot be done in Sacramento.

NOOZHAWK: Should public-employee benefits track the value of private-sector benefits? Why or why not?

DW: Public-employee benefits have been the topic of much conversation as of late. We need to take steps to ensure that pensions are fair and eliminate abuse. I support anti-spiking legislation and efforts to cap the base salary from which a pension is calculated.

NOOZHAWK: Amid the partisan divide in Sacramento, what steps will you take to work with legislators from the other caucus on behalf of your constituents and all Californians?

DW: Working with legislators from across the aisle is absolutely critical to being effective. The most effective legislators, even the most liberal, have built relationships with people on the other side of the aisle. Whether you are a Democrat or Republican, we all want good schools, quality health care, safe communities and good-paying jobs. It is not impossible to forge a working relationship around these common goals. I have found that many of the successes I have been a part of locally — whether closing our city’s budget deficit or enacting policies that have helped create good-paying jobs in renewable energy — have been realized because of bipartisan coalitions. I have a record of building consensus here locally and will do the same in Sacramento.

NOOZHAWK: What policies do you or would you support to meet California’s current energy demand while ensuring an economically and environmentally sustainable future?

DW: I see alternative energy as a unique opportunity to not only meet California’s energy demands in a responsible way, but to create good, family-supporting jobs both locally and statewide. On the Santa Barbara City Council, I worked with my colleagues to move the city and our region in a green energy direction that prioritizes renewable energy use. When I was first elected in 2003, 16 percent of Santa Barbara’s energy came from renewable energy sources. Today, Santa Barbara is on pace to become 31 percent renewable by sometime in 2010. This is a significant accomplishment because this has not only had a positive environmental impact, but resulted in energy cost savings for the city.

I support legislation that will promote the growth of the alternative energy industry. There are a number of proposals, such as increasing the renewable portfolio standard and legislation to help foster the growth of commercial composting facilities throughout the state. These types of programs will have a positive impact on the environment and the economy, and would have a minimal fiscal impact on the state’s General Fund. The legislation I would pursue is intended to help build a market for alternative energy and support the growth of business in this sector in our state. Given the educational infrastructure and local industry on the Central Coast, I believe our region is uniquely positioned to be a major hub for the alternative energy industry.

NOOZHAWK: Do you support the legalization of marijuana? Why or why not?

DW: I support the taxation and regulation of marijuana for legitimate purposes, such as medical use. Current law regarding medical marijuana use is severely inadequate and impedes the safe regulation of marijuana. We must first focus on improving effectiveness of marijuana regulation and ensure that establishments are taxed, properly permitted, audited and regulated before we move forward.

NOOZHAWK: Name your favorite place in the 35th Assembly District.

DW: Surfers Point in Ventura.

NOOZHAWK: Will you pledge to work to update California’s century-old newspaper adjudication law so that Noozhawk and other online-only news publications can publish legal notices?

DW: Yes.

Additional Resources

» Click here for Das Williams’ campaign Web site

» Click here for Mike Stoker’s Noozhawk Q&A

» Mike Stoker Points to Breadth, Depth of Experience as Assembly Advantage

» Das Williams Touts Budget Bona Fides in Making the Case for Assembly

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